Shah Faesal, the IAS officer from Jammu and Kashmir who recently quit bureaucracy and announced plans to fight the forthcoming elections, tells The Indian Express his plans. Excerpts from the interview:
Is the choice to join politics a result of ambition or compulsion?
It is conviction, (and) a little bit of sacrifice. More conviction because I believe we can bring in change. It can be brought about by giving up something (in order) to achieve something big. I think it is more about conviction – that not all is lost, and we can still make things work in our state.
Politics is viewed with a lot of scepticism, especially the mainstream, in the state. Is this a viable choice?
As an officer, I was working with politicians for the last 10 years. The governance space has politician at the top, but the kind of politics here…. I remember one politician, who was a minister – he was at his position because of a few thousand votes, and that did not represent even 1 per cent of his constituency. He was not actually worried about doing anything – he wasn’t answerable (to people). People do not vote (in the Valley), so he doesn’t have anybody to answer to. That leads to lack of accountability and a complete governance failure.
We see a lot of corruption, governance failure when the right people do not get elected to public offices.
You don’t think bureaucracy solves these issues? Is politics the answer?
Bureaucracy operates in its own space – bureaucrats cannot dictate terms to politicians. A politician represents will of the people, and in a democracy like ours, it is will of the people that prevails and the politician has the absolute discretion to decide policy. It is the politician who has the say in framing policies, and the bureaucrat has a say in its implementation. So it really is a matter of what kind of politician is sitting at the top.
Politics is part of the puzzle, in reaching solutions to our issues, but it is a very important part, perhaps one of the most important pieces of the puzzle.
… Even with the kind of starkly low voting percentages that we see?
Even with these low voting percentages; we are not getting the right people.
How long have you considered making this career change?
It has been simmering in my mind for the last couple of years. One important motivation for this was my last assignment in civil services, which was heading the hydropower corporation of the state (J&K State Power Development Corporation, or SPDC). Looking at SPDC’s potential I had lot of dreams for that organisation but realised that there was a complete push back. There was no understanding and no will in the higher levels of government.
It’s a lack of initiative and commitment to development of the state. There are people who do not understand issues, and there is no drive. This (SPDC) was a very important institution but I realised that it was not working the way I expected.
Did you feel your decisions were scuttled?
The system did not respond properly. However, it was not any suffocation or sense of insufficiency/inadequacy within the civil services that led to this decision. I have enjoyed my time; it has been a fascinating journey. The major provocations for resigning from the service were external.
You spoke of a range of national issues while announcing your resignation. You spoke of “lynch mob nationalism” and marginalisation of minorities, as well as attacks on several institutions. Have you considered joining national politics, or any national party?
Honestly, at the moment I am not thinking about joining any existing party. My idea is to look for a space in J&K which has not been explored so far (by any political party). I am trying to understand what people in the state want. After that, I will be able to take a considered decision.
I am a civil servant and I was not in active politics, so I do not know what resonates with the ground. I have to go back and see what that is.
The National Conference speaks of autonomy and the PDP of self-rule. Is there a political ideology you identify with?
My belief is that you have the Hurriyat – it is a very legit representative of the people. Let’s accept that they have been custodians of (people’s) sentiment. There’s absolutely no reason why others should encroach upon that space. What we can possibly do as elected politicians is acknowledge that space. We don’t lie about it, we don’t counter it. We don’t say that this space does not belong to anyone, or that it just isn’t there.
My idea is that electoral politics is about governance issues, and about articulating other realities of people…. I am clear about what can be the modalities to that solution, what can be the processes. There are three things. I believe before we start discussing the solutions, we need to start discussing the processes which will lead to those solutions. First, demilitarisation is a very important thing people demand. (Second), there are harsh laws people have been demanding for a long time to be reviewed. Third, political prisoners — if we really want to build confidence, let us release political prisoners and give them space for dissent. It makes absolutely no sense putting them in jails, just for their dissent. Or because their vocabulary does not suit us.
These three important things should be the processes which could then lead us to discussing a solution for the conflict.
For me, why I am entering the political space is that I have felt suffocated all these years looking at how politics is being conducted in the state. As an individual it affects my life, my child’s life, my family’s life…. When people come out to vote, they do not vote for status quo, they want a change. It’s not a referendum against the sentiment.
The young generation does not vote at all. They feel like this process is used against us.
Do you think that when people vote they make the distinction of separating day-to-day issues from the resolution of the Kashmir issue?
If voting was the solution, we wouldn’t have seen all this violence all these years. Elections have been conducted for years…(but) elections do not actually tell us much about the sentiment of the people, so there is no reason for saying that elections means resolution (or) endorsement of the status quo.
I believe that my politics is going to be that elections could be telling us that people want to engage democratically with us. It doesn’t tell us anything about the sentiment of the people. For that, you have to talk to other stakeholders, mainly the Hurriyat.
You have said that politicians are doing municipal jobs while the Army is doing politics.
When you look at the killings in the Valley, we know why they are dying. It’s a political issue, and they have certain aspirations. They want to express something – somebody is doing it through Hurriyat, police, somebody through stone-pelting, or through armed resistance. It’s an expression – we may agree with their methods or not.
Now, it needs to be responded to politically. You are doing counterinsurgency operations against it. You are saying, ‘no, it’s a military problem; it’s a problem of radicalisation, of proxy war’. And when it comes to governance, you are telling elected representatives, ‘your job is not to look at whatever is happening in the state’.
You do not want the Hurriyat to talk about it, or elected politicians to talk about it. You are telling them, ‘you be busy with roads and electricity, or job creation’. You being the Union government.
You are using force to quell all other means of expression. Military is dealing with the political problem, and politicians are asked to restrict themselves to municipal issues.
How are you taking this decision to join politics forward now?
I plan to go to all districts. I am getting requests from the youth across the state. I want to understand the mood of the people. I am meeting people. I resigned on January 6…. I am not sure if that (resignation) has been accepted, but from my side this is it. I plan to fight elections now.